Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Expect Less, Gain More


Sounds counterintuitive, doesn't it? It's not.

First, remember that everything is relative. What's rich to me may be near poverty to someone extremely wealthy, just as I may appear wealthy to a huge percentage of the world's population. I'm not. Far from it. But there are a lot of folks I'd never say that to.

And yet, I do think I'm pretty damn rich.

A couple years ago I was in close contact with a bright Danish woman who was beta-reading for me and I was helping, on occasion, to put her English, which is embarrassingly excellent, into a more English-sounding vernacular. During that time, Denmark was named by some credible source as the "happiest" nation on Earth. I asked her why.

At that time, and still today, it was obvious that, for all the awesomeness of the USA, land that I love, we are nowhere near that happy, as a nation. Why would little Denmark, with its winters of endless nights and summers of endless daylight, its cold, wet climate, be so damn happy?

Her answer? That they were a country of lower expectations. Maybe not lower. Maybe fewer.

Sounds wrong, doesn't it? We're taught to dream big. To hitch our wagons to the stars. We deserve the American Dream, right?

But think about it. Today I read a terrific blog post by MarcyKate Connolly on From the Write Angle. The title reflected what I'd been ruminating on for a few days:  The Journey Is the Destination. Check it out.

Whether it's the journey of the writer, from blank page to draft to revision, querying, publishing, and back to blank page, or just how we live our lives, if we're always looking beyond where we are to where we think we should be or want to be instead, we're missing the moment.

Our power is in that moment. It's in the now.

Sometimes that now feels great. We're in the flow. What a high! But sometimes that now seems stagnant, frustrating, hair pulling, and we'd rather be anywhere else.

Big mistake.

How does this relate to expectations being too great, set too high?

Let me refer back to another blog post from the inimitable Nathan Bransford, wherein he warns against letting dreams become expectations.

But aren't we supposed to dream?

Sure. Dream. Have expectations. But don't let them become what you live for. Because you'll never get there. There's always the next level, the next step, the next bigger, better thing that you'll need when what you have or where you are just isn't enough.

That's how we set ourselves up for disappointment. For failure. Even if we succeed at a level for which we should be kicking up our heels in a happy dance, we don't, because now we expect we should do better, get more.

Back to Denmark. They enjoy a very high standard of living. They pay high taxes. They enjoy many benefits in return. (This is not a political statement, by the way.) There are probably more bicycles than cars. Okay, I just made that up, but it seems so. They just don't expect the kind of overblown life of riches that's become the carrot dangling in front of us. They're content with what they have and they enjoy it. Ergo, they're happy.

I could list things I'd like to have and don't. Actual things (newer car, refinished floors) or writer's goals (an agent, a book deal, a best seller, a work-in-progress humming along), but, fact is, I'm cool with what I have and where I am. And I think a lot of that is because I don't expect that I should be elsewhere or have more than I do. I have enough. I like the journey. If I get those things, well, great. If I don't, I haven't failed.

So, again. Everything is relative. Especially when you measure what you have and where you are against what you've set yourself up to expect. Don't give up the dream. Just don't let it rule.

Hitch your wagon to whatever star you want, but don't forget to enjoy the clouds and the heavens as you pass through.

(This is a re-post from Friday, Aug. 3)

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